You could use some help with your marketing efforts online, But now, you’re looking at all the options available, and it’s a bit much. So how do you choose between a digital marketing agency vs. consulting firm vs. hiring in-house?
While a good agency’s strength is to execute tasks, a digital marketing consultant tends to take on more strategically demanding jobs, solving business challenges rather than creating deliverables. For example, a marketing consultant can help you with the following:
- You need to grow revenue by generating leads and making sales as a business owner. You need help figuring out where to start between content marketing, advertising campaigns, SEO, social media, and other strategies.
- Your existing marketing team or marketing strategy has yet to produce the results you wanted, and you want to understand why to get better results next time.
A marketing consultant is an expert with a strategic mindset cultivated from many years of experience in the industry. While occasionally brought in by a CMO, the typical relationship starts with the CEO, who recruits the digital marketing consultant to provide the company’s marketing department with strategy, leadership, and successful execution of the marketing plan.
Marketing agencies are more likely to work with new businesses or those with marketing talent in-house. They tend to have employees at all levels who focus on creative, digital, or traditional advertising. You will likely have an account manager or a single person as a point of contact. This person will bring agency resources to execute specific tasks like social media marketing.
Key Differences – Consultant vs. Agency
The main differences are scope, team, systems, and goals. Before we get started, let’s talk about what we mean by each of the key differences:
- Scope: The agreed-upon digital marketing efforts to perform as part of the marketing plan. In addition, there are often undefined items such as frequency of meetings, flexibility in changes, % of media spend, and contract terms that are often different between a digital marketing agency and a marketing consultant.
- Team: The individual or group responsible for delivering the marketing services. The right partner for your brand will differ at different phases of your company’s growth based on business needs.
- Systems: There are thousands of marketing tools and platforms in the marketplace. Which tools are right for your business and your marketing plan? Well, that depends on your budget and what you are trying to accomplish. Agencies are often tied to specific tools they have invested money and training into the software platform..
- Goals: If you’ve already got all the strategy you need in-house, you might only need execution from agency partners. But you may need a consultant if your business needs help to articulate a strategy that ties current marketing efforts back to business objectives.
Elements of Marketing Agency & Consultant
Understanding the differences between marketing consulting and traditional agencies is fundamental, but ultimately your needs will define your choice. Looking at the various elements of agencies and consultancies can help firm up your decision.
- They often address internal problems when the company needs more time or expertise to do the work. Specialty agencies are often an excellent solution for projects or channel-specific execution.
- Access to experts in multiple service lines, from SEO and paid search to social media copy and creative. Often the agency has trusted partners that round out the agency’s capabilities and are not agency employees.
- Higher fees. Often only work on a monthly retainer or fixed bid project, which might have minimums. There are many reasons why larger agencies, specifically advertising agencies, require larger marketing budgets, including the costs of enterprise software, multiple internal teams, and the margin needed for the owner to make money.
- Can work with a business to solve problems when the company doesn’t have answers. A marketing consultant is more likely to develop a custom marketing plan that fits your specific business needs versus delivering against a template-based work scope for the various marketing channels.
- Works with you directly in a one-on-one relationship where you always know who is doing the work. However, you often work with either a small team of marketing consultants or a one-person consulting firm.
- Digital Marketing Consultants can be more cost-effective as they don’t have the overhead of an agency, with a more significant portion of your fees going directly to marketing services.
Partnership Expectations – Agencies and Consultants
When working with an agency, you will have one point of contact to reach out to when executing specific needs. Agencies work with internal teams that must be managed and communicated with. Typically, you are not talking directly with the individuals doing the work but rather with a project manager or account representative who speaks for you with the team.
When working with a consultant, your point of contact can also be the person doing the bulk of the work. This direct communication can be highly advantageous as you can be more confident your ideas and goals are reaching your strategist directly. A consultant is often an extension of your marketing team rather than a third-party vendor.
It’s also important to remember that even though consultants don’t have large internal teams, they often have extensive networks of trusted contractors they can enlist to help meet your company’s goals.
Benefits of a Marketing Agency
Good agencies have specialized teams and individuals that will execute all functions of your marketing plans. In addition, their in-house team often will be able to create deliverables faster, with more details, and in parallel across different areas of expertise.
Marketing agencies are very hands-on and may require access to some of your data systems. The agency will determine where they see the most need in your strategy. It’s good to ensure the agency you are working with has various check-in points or review meetings to ensure your strategies align.
Agencies also typically require contracts with minimum fees. Ensure your agreement includes review points or contingencies for revision to avoid unsatisfactory deliverables.
Benefits of a Marketing Consultant
One misconception when working with a consultant is that they will need adequate resources for execution. However, the best marketing consultants will have connections and a network of contractors to execute a task.
As mentioned before, this flexibility and ability to build a team as needed impacts cost significantly. It stands to reason that when working with a marketing consultant and their network of contractors, you can expect your money to go directly to deliverables, not overhead costs.
Marketing consultants will work closely with clients to develop a strategy that fits their business needs. The process continues to grow and evolve as the consultant-client relationship does, and you don’t end up with unwanted deliverables.
An Agency Alternative
As a digital marketing consultant, I offer digital marketing strategy as a Fractional CMO, SEO/Content Director, or Marketing Strategist for business owners. I can provide all the benefits of a digital marketing consultant, but what about an agency’s benefits?
To address the overall marketing needs of businesses, I founded a Digital Marketing Collective called Tymoo. Tymoo is a consultancy of independent digital marketing consultants that work together to execute strategy much like a large agency would but without the drawbacks often associated with the agency model.